Imagine walking out to your car after shopping at the mall one evening, and when you go to start your car, it sounds like a hot rod ready to race down at the drag strip. You quickly learn that somebody has stolen the catalytic converter from beneath your vehicle.
According to the latest data from the National Insurance Crime Bureau (NICB), catalytic converter thefts more than tripled during 2020. In fact, while January 2020 recorded 652 catalytic converter thefts, these incidents repeatedly rose in frequency throughout the year — with December 2020 totaling 2,347 thefts.
The average number of monthly catalytic converter thefts was 108 in 2018, a number which rose to 282 in 2019, before skyrocketing to an average of 1,203 monthly thefts in 2020. As we are only five months into 2021, those numbers continue to soar.
A catalytic converter is a device that looks like a small muffler near a vehicle’s exhaust system. When cars and trucks burn gas, the exhaust has harmful contaminants in it, including nitrogen oxide, which is the stuff that causes acid rain. Catalytic converters break down those compounds before they are released into the air.
This device converts environmentally harmful exhaust emitted by a vehicle’s engine into less harmful gasses through the use of platinum, palladium, or rhodium — all of which are precious metals. According to David Glawe, the president, and CEO of the NICB, the increasing value of these metals in recent years has likely contributed to the surge in catalytic converter thefts.
The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic drastically reduced the production of metals in overseas mines — disrupting the supply chain and making the precious metals found in catalytic converters more valuable.
As the prices of those metals have soared, catalytic converter thefts have spread across the country. In March 2021 Rhodium prices hit a record peak of $29,800 per ounce on March 23 on the back of growing demand from the auto industry in Europe and China, which are using more rhodium to meet tougher clean-air legislation. Recently, the value of Rhodium sits at around $25,500 an ounce, while gold futures are $1905 an ounce.
There is a clear connection between times of crisis, limited resources, and disruption of the supply chain that drive increased prices in precious metals.
You will find the catalytic converter on the underbelly of your vehicle. Unfortunately, thieves know that too. Nationwide says trucks and SUVs are especially exposed to such thefts because they park higher from the ground. Thieves also target these larger models because they can be scrapped for more precious metals — which equals more money.
It takes a thief only a matter of minutes to crawl underneath your vehicle with a saw — or blowtorch — to remove your catalytic converter. According to Nationwide, they estimate that it can be done “in less than a minute.”
Recyclers are paying as much as $300 each for these stolen catalytic converters, and a good thief can sneak into a business parking lot in the cover of darkness where a commercial fleet of vehicles are parked and walk away with several thousands of dollars for just an hour of work.
Vehicles that are parked in mass commuter parking lots, or are frequently left at shopping centers, for long periods are particularly susceptible, according to the experts.
The glowing question most people ask is, “does my auto insurance cover catalytic converter theft?”
The short answer to that question is yes, but only if you have comprehensive coverage. Just as it goes when you find your car is stolen or a car part such as a catalytic converter has been pilfered, the comprehensive coverage portion of your auto insurance policy will compensate you – minus the deductible.
For business owners, it should also be covered under your commercial insurance policy.
Some websites show catalytic converter replacement costs and labor ranging as high as $2,000 or even $3,000, which does not include the cost for alternative transportation, missed work, and insurance premium increase in the long run.
According to the National Insurance Crime Bureau as of the end of February 2021, 18 states – Arkansas, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Vermont, Virginia, and West Virginia – are evaluating potential legislative actions to curb the theft problem.
To prevent catalytic converter theft, the NICB suggests that vehicle owners take these steps:
If your catalytic converter is stolen, be sure to contact your police department and also insurer immediately.
This article was written by Keven Moore.
Keven has a bachelor’s degree from the University of Kentucky, a master’s from Eastern Kentucky University and 25-plus years of experience in the safety and insurance profession. He is also an expert witness. He lives in Lexington with his family and works out of both Lexington and Northern Kentucky.